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Feds to put in more money for Olympic athletes

03/13/2012 11:43 EDT | Updated 05/13/2012 05:12 EDT
OTTAWA - Athletes competing in 11 sports at this summer's Olympic and Paralympic Games are getting more money from the federal government.

About $2.29 million will be spread among sports organizations through the Own the Podium program.

The sports chosen — including equestrian, soccer, swimming and track and field — are believed to offer Canada's best chances for medals at the London Games.

Canada is aiming for a top-12 finish in the medal count at the Olympics and a top-eight finish at the Paralympics.

"Achieving this will not be easy," Marcel Aubut, the head of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said at a news conference Thursday. "But excellence never is."

Canada finished tied for 14th at the 2008 Beijing Games with 18 medals (three gold, nine silver, six bronze). Canada was 19th eight years ago in Athens with 12 medals (3-6-3).

Own the Podium was established five years out from the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver. It was a $117-million plan designed to help Canadian athletes win more medals than any other country at their own Games.

Canada finished third in the overall medal count but won the most gold at 14, which was a record for a single Winter Games. Canada also won 19 medals, including 10 gold, in the Paralympic Games.

OTP now divides about $70 million annually in federal government funding between summer and winter sports.

Of that, $6 million is set aside for team sports.

The original OTP deal with the federal government was for funding to flow for five years, taking the elite sports community through the 2012 Games.

The 2010 budget committed additional funding through 2012 as well.

But now, the federal government is currently reviewing billions in program spending with an eye towards major cuts.

The head of OTP said she believes funding for sports is secure.

"We're optimistic that the government of Canada continues to value the importance of our high performance athletes being successful at both the Olympic and Paralympic Winter and Summer Games," said Anne Merklinger, who took over as chief executive officer of OTP earlier this year.

She called Tuesday's funding announcement key to reaching medal goals in 2012.

"Medals are won by fractions of a second, so any additional resources can certainly help," she said. "Our goal, working with the national sport organizations, is to make sure there is no stone unturned as we head into London."

Soccer is the biggest beneficiary of Tuesday's announcement, netting $455,000 in funding.

The Canadian women's team secured a spot in London in January with its second-place finish at the CONCACAF championships in Vancouver. The men have a qualifying tournament later this month in Nashville, Tenn.

Canada hasn't won a medal in a team sport since capturing a men's basketball silver in 1936.

Other Olympic sports that received funding Tuesday are canoe/kayak, cycling, diving and wrestling. Paralympic events boccia, goalball and wheelchair rugby also received money.

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